When a masked man walked into a North Idaho cigarette shop and pointed a pistol at his chest, Jeffrey Hayes made a split-second decision.
The 47-year-old clerk retrieved a .40 caliber semiautomatic gun from underneath the counter and fired, fatally wounding Joseph Kalani Hatchie, a former military policeman with no criminal record. Hatchie was carrying an unloaded pellet gun that closely resembled a Walther P-9 semiautomatic.
On Thursday, a friend said Hayes will not comment until Kootenai County officials finish an investigation into the shooting.
Stacy Allen said Hayes, a Post Falls resident, was “extremely afraid” when Hatchie came into Lew’s Smoke Shop at 7:50 p.m. on the day after Christmas. Allen said Hayes was shaken by Hatchie’s death.
“What happened was a tragedy,” he said. “It came down to a matter of life and death, and Jeff had to make a decision that no one wishes upon anyone.”
Kootenai County sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger said the shooting remains under investigation but declined further comment. Allen said Hayes has no criminal record.
Earlier this week, the Sheriff’s Department displayed the pellet gun alongside real firearms to show how authentic the pellet gun appeared.
The events of Monday evening irrevocably intertwined the lives of Hayes and Hatchie, an Otis Orchards man whose family says he was pushed to the edge by a December eviction notice and mounting medical bills. Like Hayes, Hatchie was a 47-year-old man who grew up in North Idaho.
Hayes, a former machinist, returned to North Idaho after living in Yakima and began working at Lew’s in March. It was the third time since 2000 that a robber hit the cigarette store, a popular stop for Washington smokers because of Idaho’s lower tobacco taxes.
On Monday night, Hatchie, wearing a gray ski mask, pointed the pellet gun at the clerk, according to the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office. Hayes reportedly emptied the gun, striking Hatchie 10 times.
Hatchie had seven children and stepchildren, including four who lived at home. The youngest child is 8 years old.
Mike Loberg, a neighbor of Hatchie’s, said he believes economic troubles led Hatchie to his desperate act. Loberg said had he been aware of the family’s financial struggles, he would have offered to help.
“The sad part of it was that it was right in my neighborhood, and I never saw it,” Loberg said.
Allen said Hayes did not know Hatchie.
“When you’re in that situation, you don’t know who that person is,” Allen said. “You don’t know their background. They are coming in and threatening your life, and you have to make that decision.”